It's been 14 years since Stewart Dearie opened Baldwin's Station in a brick 1883 railroad station anchoring the picturesque Main Street in Sykesville. But if his performance on a recent evening is a guide, his enthusiasm for the restaurant and its customers has not dimmed.
Dearie walked from table to table, introducing himself, asking if everything was okay, and talking up future events. It happened to be the night of a five-course beer-pairing dinner, and diners at other tables were sipping ales and stouts as they worked through a menu that started with a goat-cheese tart and ended with house-made whoopie pies.
The event was typical of Baldwin's Station—exuberant and unstuffy, with dishes that showcase fresh American ingredients and presentation that is never boring.
The space has a rambling, rustic quality, with wood floors and views of the Patapsco River from both the inside dining area and from an expansive deck. But white tablecloths and impeccable service keep it from being overly casual.
Executive chef Darrick Granai hails from a tiny town in northern Vermont. His entrees, which include steak, rainbow trout, duck, and crab cakes, seem inspired by American fields, gardens, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay. Each dish is served with bold sides and a little splash of sauce that balances the flavors and textures.
In summer, salads contain ingredients including watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, and pomegranate seeds, each with a dressing crafted to highlight the flavors. Our baby arugula salad contrasted the peppery assertiveness of the greens with sweet caramelized fennel, rich crumbles of blue cheese, and a silky poached pear. Granai is not above serving an entree as shamelessly popular as fried chicken, though his version is coated in Cajun-seasoned cornmeal and comes with grilled polenta and an aioli made with chives and almonds.
The dishes are beautifully presented, with real flowers as a garnish. The New York strip steak boasts a smooth mineral flavor and gently charred exterior, and shares the plate with a fat wedge of macaroni and cheese and a swath of unnecessary but decadently enjoyable lobster hollandaise.
A swordfish special one night was notable for the firm and moist texture of the seafood, as well as the side of pineapple sticky rice with mango salsa, providing a refreshing balance of sweet and spicy.
An appetizer of Thai shrimp featured four fat shrimp nestled in crisp tempura jackets, arranged on a mound of wilted bok choy, and drizzled with a spicy red aioli.
Desserts might include a few varieties of cheesecake, a flourless chocolate cake, or a crème brûlée. Sorbets like lemon and raspberry are available, too.
Once home, we saw that the pretty flower garnishes had been included in our to-go boxes, just the kind of thoughtful detail that makes Baldwin's Station a standout.